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Who's on the hot seat in the Eastern Conference

by John Kreiser / NHL.com

NHL.com continues its preview of the 2015-16 season, which begins Wednesday, Oct. 7.

With the start of another season days away, the pressure is already starting to build for some players who know they'll have to be big-time producers for their teams to push for a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs or contend for a championship.

Here's a look at a player from each of the 16 teams in the Eastern Conference who'll be under pressure to perform as soon as the puck drops:

Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins -- The 38-year-old defenseman began to look his age last season, finishing with eight goals and 20 points, his poorest full-season offensive totals in more than a decade. He also missed 19 games because of injury and looked slow for much of the season when he did play. With rising star Dougie Hamilton traded during the offseason, the Bruins need Chara to be a dominant force at each end of the ice, as he's been for much of his career, if they hope to return to the playoffs.

Ryan O'Reilly, Buffalo Sabres -- The Sabres, the NHL's worst offensive team in each of the past two seasons, hope O'Reilly can be the No. 1 center they've lacked for years. He didn't come cheaply; the Sabres traded three young players and the No. 31 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft to the Colorado Avalanche to get O'Reilly, then signed him to a seven-year contract. He's being counted on to spark the offense and take some of the pressure off rookie center Jack Eichel, the second pick in the 2015 draft.

Eric Staal, Carolina Hurricanes -- Carolina's captain enters the final season of a long-term contract off his poorest full-season offensive numbers (23 goals, 54 points) since 2003-04, his rookie season. He was more effective later in the season, playing wing on a line with younger brother Jordan Staal in the middle. For the rebuilding Hurricanes to have any hope of making the playoffs, Eric has to return to being a dominant offensive player and provide leadership for a young nucleus.

Brandon Saad, Columbus Blue Jackets -- A lot is expected of Saad, who came to the Blue Jackets from the Chicago Blackhawks during the offseason and signed a six-year contract. At age 22, Saad already has been part of two Stanley Cup-winning teams and put up 23 goals and 52 points for Chicago last season despite averaging 17:15 of ice time in 82 games. He figures to get expanded ice time in Columbus and has to produce offensively for the Blue Jackets to turn their late surge last season into a return to the playoffs.

Mike Green, Detroit Red Wings -- The Red Wings finally have the right-shooting defensemen they've missed for years in Green, who should provide a major boost on the power play. The question is whether his offensive skills are enough to overcome his shortcomings in his own zone. He's likely to start the season paired with Danny DeKeyser; if the duo clicks, it would go a long way toward helping the Red Wings qualify for the playoffs for the 25th consecutive season.

Jaromir Jagr, Florida Panthers -- The Panthers looked like a different team after they acquired Jagr from the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 26. The 43-year-old had six goals and 18 points in 20 games with Florida while playing with linemates (Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov) who weren't even half his age. The Panthers need a similar performance through a full season from Jagr to have a chance to make the playoffs for the second time since 2000.

Alex Galchenyuk, Montreal Canadiens -- The Canadiens have the NHL's best goaltender (Carey Price) and one of its best defensemen (P.K. Subban). What they haven't had is strength down the middle, something they're counting on from Galchenyuk, who will play center this season after spending his first three NHL seasons on the wing. He's coming off career-highs in goals (20), assists (26) and points (46), and needs to build on those numbers for the Canadiens to take the next step toward their first championship since 1993.

Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils -- The Devils don't have a lot of firepower, meaning that Schneider once again will have to excel on a nightly basis to give them a chance to win. Schneider was superb last season, when his 26-31-9 record didn't reflect his performance (2.26 goals-against average, .925 save percentage). He may have to be even better this season just to keep the Devils afloat.

Ryan Strome, New York Islanders -- Center John Tavares is the sun around which the Islanders revolve. But even he needs help, and Strome has the potential to help carry the offensive load. Despite playing on a variety of lines, he had 17 goals and 50 points in his first full NHL season and showed there's plenty of room for improvement. Strome could wind up on the right side with Tavares or as center of the No. 2 line; either way, his offensive is a necessity on a team that hasn't won a playoff series since 1993.

Derek Stepan, New York Rangers -- Stepan got the long-term contract he'd been seeking (six years, $39 million, according to war-on-ice.com); now he has to put up the kind of offensive numbers that go along with being paid like a top-line center. He had 16 goals and 55 points in 68 games in 2014-15 but has never scored more than 21 goals or 57 points in a full season. Even on one of the League's deepest teams, that's not enough production in a division loaded with star-caliber No. 1 centers.

Bobby Ryan, Ottawa Senators -- Ryan scored 30 or more goals four consecutive seasons for the Anaheim Ducks, but he's had 23 and 18 goals in each of the past two seasons since being acquired by Ottawa in July 2013. The Senators came out of nowhere to earn a playoff spot last season, even though Ryan scored only once in his final 20 games. He can't do that again and expect the Senators to get back into the postseason.

Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers -- Giroux's final offensive numbers (25 goals, 73 points) weren't bad, but they weren't good enough to get the Flyers into the playoffs. It was the first time since 2010-11 that Giroux averaged less than a point a game. The Flyers were a top-heavy team offensively last season and need more from their captain to avoid another non-playoff season.

Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins -- How much is playing with Sidney Crosby worth to a player who's already one of the League's top scorers? The Penguins are counting on Kessel to bounce back from a 25-goal, 61-point season with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2014-15 after acquiring him on July 1. Pittsburgh is going all-in in its quest to win the Cup while Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are in their prime, and they need Kessel to perform like the five-time 30-goal scorer he was before last season to have any hope of that happening.

Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning -- For all the hype given to the "Triplets Line," Stamkos is still the Lightning's top gun; he led them with 43 goals during the regular season and had seven goals and 18 points during their run to the Stanley Cup Final. Stamkos is an elite scorer, a rare quantity today, on one of the League's best teams who is entering the final season of his contract; he has to produce at an elite level for himself and his team to succeed.

Nazem Kadri, Toronto Maple Leafs -- Kadri's lack of consistency has plagued him throughout his NHL career. New coach Mike Babcock has gone out of his way to praise Kadri, who turns 25 the night before the Maple Leafs open their season against the Canadiens, saying he expects Toronto's first-round pick in 2009 (No. 7) to be an elite player. Kadri will need to put up more the 18 goals and 39 points he had last season to reach those expectations and keep the Maple Leafs competitive in what figures to be a rebuilding season.

T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals -- For all the attention Oshie has received in his seven NHL seasons, he's never scored more than 21 goals or finished with more than 60 points. The Capitals need Oshie to fit in on the right side of the top line with left wing Alex Ovechkin and either Nicklas Backstrom (if he's healthy) or Evgeny Kuznetsov in the middle to get to the next level.

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